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Words From Adelaide: Gran's House

John Powell recalls in hilarious detail the day he got stuck in a 'dumb waiter' lift at his grandma's house.

For more of John's brilliant words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/words_from_adelaide/

As a small kid I used to like going to Gran's house, a tall, Victorian-style London home. Inside the front door there were steps to a closed door, which I was forbidden to enter. A tenant, Mrs O'Peargus lived there. When I sneaked inside she made a big fuss of me. I liked Mrs O'Peargus. Apparently, Grandpa also liked Mrs O'Peargus. Gran' did not seem to like Mrs O'Peargus.

I also liked the wonderful bannister-slide down two floors, but requiring urgent braking at the end due to an ornamental wooden knob that would have ruined future matrimonial prospects.

Tom, being the first born, was Gran's favourite (well, I think it was because he was the first born). She always talked about 'My Tom' whereas I was just 'John'. Also she hugged and kissed him, while he munched four or five chocolate biscuits, glancing at me smugly as he did so. Gran gave me one chocolate biscuit in compensation. I did not like Gran much.

With Tom being utilized by Gran, Grandpa had to settle for me. I was instructed to 'Kiss Grandpa then,' by non-participating grown-ups. I hated kissing Grandpa; his beard stank of tobacco and last night's soup and his large moustache was like a bristly coir mat. I did not like Grandpa much either. However, it seems that Mrs O'Peargus liked Grandpa, coir mat and all.

I escaped as quickly as I could to go to the 'dumb waiter' lift. Pulling on ropes descended it to the kitchen where it was filled with food then hauled up to the dining room, a floor above. I was forbidden to touch the ropes ever again after a rather unfortunate occasion, when, after removing its shelf, I climbed into the lift to lower myself to the kitchen and, hauling on the wrong rope, went up instead of down and the lift stuck. Later, after panic-stricken searches, distraught grown-ups discovered me and yelled hysterically not to move. As if I could, stuck in the lift with knees under chin. Then I heard the fire engines; footsteps running up to the roof; then a lot of shouting about a rope coming off a pulley.

Finally, we started to descend until I was disgorged into the kitchen. There was a large crowd awaiting my triumphant arrival: some of the grown-ups hugged me, others spanked me—some did both. Six burly, helmeted firemen with oxygen tanks and huge axes were laughing their heads off; Grandpa making so much smoke with his pipe that, at first, I thought the firemen had come for him. Then Gran got angry when she saw Mrs O'Peargus hidden behind Grandpa's smoke screen.

Tom was in the background eating more chocolate biscuits and enjoying the spanking bit of my reception; even the Vicar was there, I suppose to give me my last rites. A number of neighbours and passers-by, attracted by the fire engines and an ambulance, had dropped in to give valuable advice, then two London Bobbies arrived with notebooks saying to the assembly, 'Nah then, nah then, what's all this 'ere abaht then?' over and over again with nobody listening; while two ambulance men were in the rear, looking a bit disappointed that there was no victim.

That is why I was banned from going near the 'dumb waiter' lift ever again. Suffice to say, I tried the manoeuvre later, in clandestine fashion, down to the kitchen—successfully, as nobody heard the maid scream.

The huge garden had a cottage at one end which housed 'old George'—a derelict who did odd jobs. Tom told me he was completely mad. I used to creep up behind the bushes to see what a completely mad madman did. Apparently, they sleep all day while muttering aloud between snores. There was also a small pond; I overheard some grown-up saying it must have been the pond that gave Tom diphtheria, so I always held my breath when passing it, except the time I forgot and threw in the cat to see if it could swim.

Then Grandpa died. At once, Mrs O'Peargus acquired alternative accommodation; Gran acquired 'Smithy'; Smithy acquired sole use of a Riley Sports car that Gran bought for him. Gran liked Smithy. Smithy liked the Riley sports car. I did not like Smithy; neither did Mum and my uncles who, afraid of losing their beneficiary status, promptly threw him out—without the car.

Old George, in snoring, muttering-madman tradition, slept through the entire crisis.

I liked completely-mad, old George very much. Easily my favourite!

© John Powell 2008


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